Al-Ahram Weekly Online   18 - 24 October 2012
Issue No. 1119
Published in Cairo by AL-AHRAM established in 1875

Lords of misrule

Civil political forces vow to stage more anti-Morsi demonstrations, reports Mohamed Abdel-Baky

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A masked protester with rocks at the ready; clashes between Islamists and civil forces during Friday's demonstrations

Opposition groups have called for a demonstration on 19 October to press for immediate investigations into the violence directed at anti-President Mohamed Morsi protesters last Friday. Members of the Muslim Brotherhood are widely believed to have been behind the attacks.

While President Morsi's office condemned the violence it has shown no indication that it will call for an investigation into attacks that left dozens of protesters in Tahrir Square injured.

On Sunday the Constitution Party, led by Mohamed Al-Baradei, and the Popular Current, led by Hamdeen Sabahi, issued a joint statement saying it was the responsibility of the president to open investigations into Friday's bloody events and refer whoever was responsible to trial.

The statement added that the clashes occurred because "some members of the ruling Freedom and Justice Party [FJP] refuse to recognise the opposition's right to express its opinions peacefully".

The statement accused the FJP of repeating the mistakes of the Mubarak regime rather than working to achieve national consensus, and held the Muslim Brotherhood and its political arm responsible for the attacks.

An additional 20 political parties and youth movements announced later on Monday that they would join Friday's protest.

Acting Chairman of the FJP Essam Al-Erian responded to the statement by claiming that the opposition was seeking to monopolise Tahrir Square.

"Our members were not there when the violence started. They arrived after 4pm and were attacked by thugs. Some of the buses that transported our members from other governorates were burned. This proves that FJP members were the victims and not the aggressors," Al-Erian claimed.

He added that the FJP welcomes any investigation into the violence and its leaders would take all necessary action if it was shown that any party members were involved.

Muslim Brotherhood officials have issued contradictory statements about when the group's members entered the square on Friday. The secretary of the FJP in Cairo, Mohamed Al-Beltagui, issued a statement on 2pm on Friday calling on "all Brotherhood members in Tahrir to retreat", a later statement posted on the FJP's website denied members of the group were in the square prior to 4pm.

Last Friday's protest, originally planned by opposition groups to place the spotlight on President Morsi's first 100 days in office, became violent when demonstrators shouting anti-Morsi slogans were attacked by a rock throwing mob who proceeded to trash the stage set up by the Popular Current.

Morsi supporters forced the opposition into Mohamed Mahmoud Street where more rocks were hurled and Molotov cocktails thrown. Hundreds of Ultras joined the anti-Morsi protesters in their battle to take back the control of the iconic square. Security forces were absent from the area.

Anti-Morsi protesters managed to reoccupy the square after the Muslim Brotherhood withdrew.

After the violence demonstrators raised banners showing Morsi and his predecessor president Hosni Mubarak side by side with the caption "Morsi is Mubarak". Another banner read: "Watch Morsi's version of the Battle of Camel".

"Down, down with the rule of Mohamed Badei -- the supreme Guide of the Muslim Brotherhood," protesters shouted. "You sold the revolution, you sold the blood of martyrs."

Ministry of Health officials say that at least 110 people were hurt during the clashes, with many suffering head and eye injuries.

Farouk Mustafa, a 32 year-old accountant who took part in the demonstrations and received a head injury, believes participating in the anti-Morsi protest was the right decision.

"I voted for him to protect our rights, our freedoms, and to achieve the goals of the revolution. I went to complain that he had failed to keep his promises only to be violently attacked by Morsi's supporters," said Mustafa.

Muslim Brother Sameh Abdel-Latif claims to be a victim of secular groups who forced Islamists from the square for expressing their own views.

Last Fridays protests -- the Friday of Accountability -- was originally called for by the National Association for Change (NAC), the Popular Current, the Constitution Party, the Egyptian Social Democratic Party, the 6 April Youth Movement, the Egyptian Socialist Party, the Egyptian Communist Party and several labour rights groups.

The demonstrators called for the disbanding of the Islamist dominated Constituent Assembly, the implementation of a progressive system of tax, a fair minimum wage and a ceiling on maximum salaries in the public sector.

"What we saw on Friday was a replication of the thuggish behaviour that characterised the NDP under Mubarak," said activist Shady Al-Ghazali Harb. Harb sustained head injuries at the hands of stone-throwing FJP supporters. He added that Muslim Brotherhood leaders must be brought to account for their involvement in the attacks.

The Muslim Brotherhood's decision to hold a protest on the same day, and in the same place, as the Friday of Accountability was, says Harb, a cynical attempt to hi-jack the protests and deflect attention from Morsi's record in office.

Muslim Brotherhood spokesman Mahmoud Ghozlan told Al-Ahram Weekly that the Brotherhood bussed in supporters from several governorates to Tahrir Square to protest against last week's acquittal of the defendants in the Battle of the Camel case.

"We did not intend to foil the protest against Morsi, we only wanted to hold a demonstration to announce our position on the Battle of Camel court ruling," he added.

A report published on Saturday by the FJP's mouthpiece claimed pro-Morsi protesters had captured members of the dismantled State Security Service who had infiltrated the protests to stir trouble, a story eerily reminiscent of the Mubarak regime's, and then the military's, endlessly blaming of "the hidden hand".

The paper added that "unknown thugs" wearing T-shirts with the FJP's logo had attacked the anti-president protesters.

"Other thugs could be seen coming from Mohamed Mahmoud Street to destroy a podium in the square and make it seem as though it was the Brotherhood doing the destruction," claimed the paper. "FJP members arrested three of the thugs and handed them to the police."

Administrators of the of Facebook page "We are all Khaled Said" slammed the FJP version of events as a fabrication.

In a post on Saturday the page's admin pointed out the irony of the ruling party blaming the infiltration of their ranks on security forces that fall under the control of the president, a former head of the FJP.

Amin Iskander, a member of the Popular Current, squarely blamed the clashes on the Muslim Brotherhood.

"Our protest was planned a long time ago. Our demands were clear before the verdict in the Battle of the Camel case. The Brotherhood made a mistake when it decided to hold a protest in Tahrir Square on Friday."

Iskander accused the Interior Ministry of deliberately failing to protect peaceful protesters. "Their decision to stay away from the square only benefited the Brotherhood," he says.

Political analyst Amr Al-Shobaki says last week's events will exacerbate tensions between the Brotherhood and non-Islamist political groups. He called for immediate dialogue to help stabilise an already fragile political situation.

Professor of political science Hassan Nafaa branded the response of the presidency and ruling party to last Friday's protest as an abnegation of responsibility.

"The FJP seems unwilling to recognise that it is now the ruling party and must take concrete steps to build bridges with the opposition. If it continues with its policy of confrontation with those who do not agree with it the whole political situation might blow up."

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